WILLMAR, Minn. – After dropping a 3-2 decision to the Willmar WarHawks in overtime on Sunday evening, North Iowa hopped off the bus on Friday evening looking to take the action to their hosts right from the jump.
Jack Campion (Crystal, Minn./Armstrong-Cooper H.S.) took care of that just 52 seconds into the game, but Willmar pushed the Bulls to the brink in a 2-1 North Iowa victory, putting the Bulls within a win of wrapping up the first playoff spot in the NA3HL West Division race.
An attempted rink-wide pass out of the Willmar zone instead found Campion’s stick in the WarHawks’ slot, and one stride later he roped one past Lukas Haugen into the upper-right corner of the net for a 1-0 lead.
“That was a big part of our game plan, was starting on time,” said Campion. “It was good to get that first one out of the way and loosen the tension a little bit, and hopefully get some momentum going.”
North Iowa missed on their only power play chance of the first period, but each team got their looks in the second. With 6:42 left in the middle stanza, the WarHawks tied it on a pass to the weak side from Dylan Gajewski, where Ben Johnson was waiting to snap it home for a 1-1 score.
Both teams went into the third sensing that the next goal might be the deciding tally, and Carson Jones (Eden Prairie, Minn./Kenai River Brown Bears) wasted little time putting North Iowa in the driver’s seat. An initial shot from Cal Nauss (Wayzata, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) in the left-wing faceoff circle was blocked right back to him off of the body of Nate Cox, but his second chance found Jones in front of the net for the finish and a 2-1 lead.
“We came into the third period and knew we’d have to get one quick,” said Jones. “We were just running our forecheck, and we wanted to get bodies in front of the net. Something good’s going to happen if we do, and luckily it went our way and we got a good bounce.”
Willmar got their chances in the final period, posting 13 of their 30 shots in the final 20 minutes, but the effort fell short in the game’s waning minutes, including one final chance in the North Iowa end with the net empty and 5.7 seconds to play.
Max Gutjahr (Appleton, Wis./Amarillo Bulls) held the WarHawks in check throughout the night, making 29 saves for his third win of the season. Haugen took his second straight loss, making 36 saves. The Bulls’ power play closed out the evening scoreless on three chances, while Willmar went 1-for-4 in picking up its only goal of the night.
The Bulls ground out the win despite having to scrap and claw for goals – it’s the first 2-1 win for North Iowa since topping the WarHawks by that score in December of 2018, and the first win with two goals or fewer since shutting out Granite City in January of last year. It’s the first time the Bulls have done either in an opponent’s home building since an overtime win at Wisconsin on February 24, 2017.
Lucas Jorgenson (Orono, Minn./Holy Family H.S.) was not in the lineup on Friday, keeping his team-best eight-game point streak alive for another night.
With the fifth-place New Ulm Steel off on Saturday after their 6-1 loss to the Granite City Lumberjacks, it will be up to North Iowa to lock in its own Fraser Cup playoff bid Saturday with their home contest against the Alexandria Blizzard. The opening puck drop on North Iowa’s “Marvel-ous Night” is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at the Mason City Multipurpose Arena, with live streaming coverage on HockeyTV and free audio streaming on Mixlr.
Updated news and information on the North Iowa Bulls’ 10th Anniversary season are always available at www.northiowabulls.com, and by following the team’s social media platforms on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.
North Iowa 1 0 1 – 2
Willmar 0 1 0 – 1
1st Period-1, North Iowa, Campion 9 0:52. Penalties-Gajewski Wil (hooking-minor), 16:10.
2nd Period-2, Willmar, Johnson 4 (Gajewski, Thomas), 13:18 (PP). Penalties-Jones Nio (roughing-minor), 0:42; Kupka Wil (roughing-minor), 6:36; Sofo Nio (holding-minor), 7:34; Johnson Wil (tripping-minor), 11:07; Heffron Nio (slashing-minor), 12:53; Nauss Nio (cross checking-minor), 16:08; Willis Wil (roughing-minor), 16:08; Uckele Wil (hooking-minor), 17:02.
3rd Period-3, North Iowa, Jones 13 (Nauss, Sofo), 5:15. Penalties-Campion Nio (checking from behind-minor, checking from behind-10 misc), 10:30.
Shots on Goal-North Iowa 12-12-14-38. Willmar 10-7-13-30.
Power Play Opportunities-North Iowa 0 / 0; Willmar 1 / 0.
Goalies-North Iowa, Gutjahr 3-0-1-0 (30 shots-29 saves). Willmar, Haugen 3-2-0-0 (38 shots-36 saves).
Linesmen-Gerard Lamoureux, Bay Zuehlke.